Mother Jones | Workers Got Fed Up. Bosses Got Scared. This Is How the Big Quit Happened.
KI Associate Director, Lane Windham’s book Knocking on Labor’s Door is referenced in an article on “The Great Resignation.”
Quitting is, in some ways, the sad resort of an individualized working class. Unorganized, you can quit. But the institutional changes needed—from stronger labor protections to child care policies—await better contracts or legislative victories. Consider the 1970s, a decade often derided as the death knell of worker solidarity. In her book Knocking on Labor’s Door, former union organizer and academic Lane Windham explored how an “individual rights consciousness,” birthed from civil rights–era organizing, led an ignored working class—often young Black women—to take action. Yet it did not have the impact of the strike wave of the 1940s because the legal, economic, and social conditions under which it unfolded had changed. Part of the shift was that employers, many in the South, increased resistance: Illegal firings “more than doubled” in the 1970s and ’80s, Windham noted. So workers who were trying to unionize were also losing. That’s one reason why the era often gets misremembered as the time when labor lost its way; the more complicated reality is that there were worker revolts—a lot of them, in fact—but their efforts were blocked and dismissed, which obscured the fight and power of the labor movement for decades.
We risk something similar now: an overhyping of quitting as revolution, and underplaying its ability to show workers’ agency. If you read enough quitting stories, you’ll find how that individual decision—well, this isn’t worth it—came about because of a unique confluence of recent events and policies that allowed workers, for once, to imagine a better way. We should be skeptical about just how much lasting change will come from the actions we’re seeing today, but also keenly aware that some things have already changed—and that workers, in some sort of crazy-quilt general strike, did fight back.
Read the full article below.